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FYI Number 86: June 28, 2006

House Appropriators Complete FY 2007 NASA Funding Bill

Tomorrow, the House of Representatives is scheduled to complete its consideration of the FY 2007 Science, State, Justice, and Commerce Appropriations bill which provides funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Under this bill, written by appropriations subcommittee chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA), Ranking Member Peter Visclosky (D-IN), and their colleagues, NASA would receive $16,709.0 million. This appropriation is $83.2 million below the Administration's request (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/021.html), and $462.4 million above current funding not including emergency supplemental funding.

There is extensive language in House Committee Report 109-520 which accompanies this bill, H.R. 5672. Much of this language is shown below; the complete text may be read at http://thomas.loc.gov/

INTRODUCTORY LANGUAGE REGARDING NASA'S NEW VISION:

"The recommendation includes funds to support NASA's new vision and mission for space exploration, while supporting requested funds for the continued operation of the Space Shuttle. The Committee is very concerned about the need to maintain the nation's leadership in science and technology. To this end, the Committee has provided additional funding above the request for aeronautics research and science programs. The recommendation makes modest changes to NASA's request to achieve a balance between exploration and NASA's other core mission programs."

COMMITTEE CONCERN REGARDING THE AGENCY'S TRANSFER OF FUNDS:

"The Committee also notes that the reprogramming procedures outlined in section 605 of this Act apply to the reallocation of funds over a specified amount among budget programs, projects and activities, including the reallocation of funding made available in previous fiscal years. The Committee is concerned about the process of setting NASA priorities through significant funding shifts in the operating plan rather than through the regular appropriations process. The guidance provided in the bill and report for fiscal year 2007 provides a clear base funding level. The Committee must be notified of any deviations that meet the criteria established in section 605. None of the funds provided under this heading shall be for non-NASA construction projects."

SIZE OF NASA'S WORKFORCE:

"With respect to the agency's workforce, the Committee is concerned with the budgetary impact of maintaining employment levels in excess of what is needed to accomplish NASA's mission. The Committee expects NASA to undertake the necessary workforce planning to correct what NASA refers to as ‘uncovered capacity'. The Committee supports NASA's efforts to develop and maintain a world-class workforce."

SCIENCE, AERONAUTICS AND EXPLORATION:

"NASA's Science, Aeronautics and Exploration (SAE) account provides funding for the Science, Exploration Systems, and Aeronautics Research Mission Directorates, and for Education programs and Cross-Agency Support programs." The Administration requested an 8.3% or $803.1 million increase in this budget, from the current $9,721.3 million to $10,524.4 million. The House bill reduced the request by $42.4 million to $10,482.0 million.

One of the four directorates in this account is SCIENCE, for which the Administration requested $5,330.0 million. The committee report includes the following:

"The recommendation includes a total of $5,404,800,000 for the Science Mission Directorate, an increase of $75,000,000 above the request [a total increase over the current budget of 2.9% or $151.1 million]. Increases above the request include: $50,000,000 for research and analysis; $15,000,000 to initiate planning for an orbiter/lander mission to Europa; and $10,000,000 for Terrestrial Planet Finder for continued technology development.

"The Committee expects that the increase provided for research and analysis will be allocated in an equitable fashion among all themes of the Science Mission Directorate: Solar System Exploration, the Universe, and the Earth-Sun System. The Committee is concerned about the damage to our nation's research institutions that can result from the abrupt and unexpected termination of peer-reviewed scientific research grants. The Committee expects that NASA will avoid such actions in the future, to the extent possible. When negotiating terms of university research grants, NASA should include close-out provisions that retain adequate flexibility for the agency, while at the same time providing sufficient mechanisms for minimizing adverse impacts on university educational and research programs.

"The National Academy of Sciences, Solar System Exploration Decadal Survey of planetary scientists concluded that the highest priority of the scientific community is an orbiter/lander mission to Jupiter's moon, Europa. One of NASA's highest priorities is to search for life on other planets, and the Decadal Survey of planetary scientists determined that Europa has the highest probability of supporting life in our Solar System because of the confirmed presence of a planet-wide ocean of liquid salt water coupled with significant ocean bottom heat energy created by tidal flexing. The chemical and heat energy created by mid-ocean volcanic vents on the bottom of Earth's oceans have created communities of living organisms that thrive in absolute darkness in conditions nearly identical to the conditions that exist on the bottom of Europa's salt water oceans. For these reasons, in last year's conference report, the Congress directed NASA to begin planning for this mission, and to incorporate it into NASA's fiscal year 2007 budget request. The recommendation includes $15,000,000 for NASA to study and plan for a new start for the single most important outer planetary mission of the Decadal Survey. The Committee urges NASA to incorporate additional funding for a Europa mission as part of its fiscal year 2008 budget request. The Committee expects that NASA would implement this new start utilizing a purely peer review process that capitalizes on proven capabilities to plan, design and execute complex outer planetary missions.

"The recommendation provides funding for the continuation of the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF). TPF will study all aspects of planets outside our solar system to find earthlike planets and study those planets' ability to maintain life.

"The Committee supports NASA's efforts to plan for the extension of the life of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and maintains that the HST servicing mission should be one of NASA's top near-term priorities. The recommendation provides requested funding for the HST servicing mission; however, these funds should not be used to de-orbit HST.

"The recommendation includes the requested level of $98,500,000 for the Space Interferometry Mission (SIM). This mission will permit a dramatic leap in our understanding of many processes in astrophysics and is a key mission in NASA's search for Earth-like planets and life. Technologies being developed for SIM are also critical to the next generation of space-based telescopes.

"The recommendation includes the requested level of $700,200,000 for Mars Exploration to ensure the continued successful implementation of Phoenix in 2007, Mars Science Lab in 2009, Scout in 2011 and the Mars orbiter in 2013 as well as the early technology work for later missions and operations of ongoing missions.

"The Committee believes that NASA's scientific successes and discoveries depend upon a well-balanced mission portfolio of large, medium, and small-sized missions. Reductions from planned rates of growth in Science funding appear to have fallen disproportionately on smaller missions such as the competitively-run Explorer Program, which is one of NASA's most important programs addressing critical scientific questions. Within the funding level provided, the Committee encourages NASA to consider a restoration of funding to smaller missions and to fund already-competed missions to the extent possible.

"The Committee understands that NASA is in the process of reviewing the future course of action on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The Committee encourages NASA to propose a reallocation of funding through the regular reprogramming process should this review result in a continuation of the program.

"The recommendation includes $443,100,000, as requested for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The Committee understands that the JWST has been reaffirmed by a special Science Assessment Team as the astronomy community's number one priority for the coming decade, and is planned for a 2013 launch.

"A critical factor that will affect the future missions NASA can initiate is the availability of power sources for probes that cannot rely on solar energy because they are traveling too far from, or too close to, the Sun. An Europa mission and the Solar Probe are examples. Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) are required for these spacecraft. For the past several years, Russia has been supplying the plutonium-238 (Pu-238) needed for U.S. RPSs because U.S. supplies are depleted. Now, Russia's own supplies are running dry. In addition, NASA has curtailed a major part of its technology development for advanced RPS devices. Therefore, NASA, in consultation with the Department of Energy and other appropriate agencies, shall submit a report to the Committee no later than August 31, 2007 on these issues. The report shall address the status of U.S. development of advanced RPS devices; a detailed explanation of what steps are being taken to ensure an adequate supply of plutonium-238 for spacecraft missions; and an indication of how many RPSs, of what design and capabilities, will be available for use, and when, to permit effective planning for future missions.

A second directorate in this account is EXPLORATION SYSTEMS. The Administration requested $3,978.3 million, which is a 30.4% or $928.2 million increase over the current budget of $3,050.1 million. The committee report states: "The recommendation includes a total of $3,827,600,000 [a 25.5% or $777.5 million increase] for Exploration Systems. The recommendation includes the requested funding levels for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the Crew Launch Vehicle, and International Space Station Cargo Crew Services. The recommendation reduces funding for Constellation Systems program support activities by $16,000,000.

"The recommendation includes $239,300,000 for Exploration Technology Development. The Committee expects NASA to enter into an arrangement with the National Research Council for an independent assessment of NASA's restructured Exploration Technology Development program to determine how well the program is aligned with the stated objectives of the Vision for Space Exploration, identify any gaps, and assess the quality of the research. This assessment shall be provided to the Committee within one year after the enactment of this Act.

"The recommendation includes $252,700,000 for Robotic Lunar Exploration, an increase of $118,400,000 over the current year level. The Committee recognizes the importance of a robotic lunar lander mission in preparing for future human exploration of the Moon, and therefore supports the continuing work of the Lunar Precursor and Robotic Program Office for the development of the robotic lunar project.

"The Committee encourages NASA to allocate additional funding, if possible, via the reprogramming process, for basic and applied microgravity life and physical sciences, including the maintenance of a meaningful program of peer-reviewed ground-based research. The Committee further encourages NASA to establish an external advisory panel to guide research priorities relative to microgravity life and physical sciences consistent with the recommendations of the National Academies."

The third directorate in this account is AERONAUTICS RESEARCH. There was considerable discussion on Capitol Hill about the administration's proposed 18.1% or $159.7 million reduction in this funding from the current budget of $884.1 million to $724.4 million. The House Appropriations Committee objected to this request, stating in its committee report: "The recommendation includes $824,400,000 for Aeronautics Research, an increase of $100,000,000 above the request. The restoration of funds reflects the Committee's concern about the direction NASA has taken in downsizing and restructuring its Aeronautics Research program. While the United States is reducing its Federal investment in aeronautics research our competitors are increasing their aeronautics research and development budgets and making competitiveness their number one priority. While the Committee strongly supports the President's new vision for robotic and manned exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond, it is imperative that we not forget the importance of aeronautics research to our domestic economy. The Committee notes that NASA is in the process of developing a National Aeronautics Policy to be delivered to the Congress in the fall of 2006."

EXPLORATION CAPABILITIES:

Another major NASA budget is that for Exploration Capabilities which provides funding for the International Space Station, Space Shuttle, and Space and Flight Support. The Administration requested $6,234.4 million, a reduction of 4.4% from the current budget of $6,869.7 million. The House Appropriations Committee cut this budget further, its report stating:

"The Committee recommends $6,193,500,000 for exploration capabilities, a decrease of $41,422,000 below the budget request and $384,401,000 [a cut of 9.8% or $676.2 million] below the fiscal year 2006 base enacted level. The recommendation includes a decrease of $33,400,000 below the request for the International Space Station (ISS). The Committee believes that this small reduction is appropriate given the uncertainties surrounding the nature and scope of the science to be conducted on the ISS. The recommendation assumes that this reduction will be taken from the amount requested for Multi-User Systems and Support. The remaining portion of the reduction below the request is a general reduction to support functions and institutional investments funded through general and administrative charges. The Committee expects that this reduction will be spread back to program activities throughout this account proportionally.

"In order to ensure that the ISS will be used effectively to test technologies in support of exploration, the Committee directs NASA to enter into an arrangement with the National Research Council for an independent assessment of how the ISS can best be used as a technology testbed in support of the stated objectives of the Vision for Space Exploration. The assessment should evaluate NASA's plans, identify any gaps, and determine the time required to achieve stated objectives under the planned funding profile for ISS testbed activities. This assessment shall be provided to the Committee within one year after the enactment of this Act. In addition, the Committee directs NASA to provide a plan to the Committee by March 31, 2007 for utilizing the ISS for fundamental materials science research."

Other sections of the report include language on the Office of Inspector General and Administrative Provisions.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3095

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